Kensington Neighbourhood Guide
Ever wondered what Kensington is like and if it's the neighbourhood for you? Get the lowdown here.
With more garden squares than an al-fresco geometry class, Kensington will woo you with its pristine porch-fronted Victorian terraces, seduce you with its museums, and refuse to let you go home without a nightcap.
Hailed as the ‘Royal Borough’ in 1901, upper class families flocked here to form the most elite of neighbourhoods, and a wealth of appropriately la-de-dah shops and restaurants popped up to keep them all happy. The buildings are kept wonderfully pristine and a wealth of parks provide a slice of solace on a sunny afternoon.
Wander around with no plans and get lost in architecture, shop ‘til you drop at the designer boutiques, relax with a coffee in one of the parks, or get dressed to the nines and hit a top restaurant. Whatever your cup of tea, you’ll be able to enjoy in the best. And there are quite literally, many places to enjoy a banging cuppa.
If you can bear to tear yourself away from your cosy Plum bed early enough, join the locals and go for a spinning or yoga class at Core Collective. Muscles flexed and ready for a day of culture, exploration and coffee, head out for a killer brunch. You’re spoilt for choice, but go for pesto benedict at Ffiona’s to set you up for the day, and you might just find yourself going back every morning. Or if you’re feeling just a little naughty, go for ‘Star Trek & Oreo’ pancakes at My Old Dutch on the high street - go on, you deserve it.
Better work all that deliciousness off really. So it’s a darn good job you’ll be surrounding by some of the most beautiful green parks in London town. Swerve the expansive lawns of Hyde Park for the more characterful Japanese-inspired Kyoto Garden in Holland Park; grab a take out coffee from Cafe Phillies, and zen out with the lanterns, waterfalls and peacocks.
If you’re closer to Kensington Gardens, the former private gardens to the palace (told you it was la-de-dah), go and seek out the Elfin Oak, a 900-year-old oak tree, which is home to some mischievous looking elves and gnomes. They also hold walking tours at night to spot the park’s black-winged inhabitants.
We promised you a banging cuppa, and we weren’t kidding. A stay in London wouldn’t be complete without afternoon tea, so head to The Ivy Kensington between 3-5pm every day for fine tea in even finer art-deco surroundings. Or if you want something a smidgen more quaint, go to Candella Tea Room; a teeny place - look up and you’ll see the heavens…
Not sweet enough for you? Stop by Maitre Choux for the most insanely good éclairs you’ve ever seen and tasted. Each one is a gloriously edible work of art, but trust us, you’ll have no problem tucking straight into one.
Where to shop in Kensington
Come with half empty suitcases, or be prepared to buy a new one - we’ve got mega respect if you make it back without a ‘few’ essentials. There are some iconic department stores with Harrods and Harvey Nichols down the road in Knightsbridge, which are, of course, worth looking around. But in our opinion, the real gems lie in Kensington’s surrounding boutiques. These are THE places to shop, and perusing their plush interiors you might just bump into a celebrity of two.
If you want to snap up a designer piece on a budget (um, who doesn’t), head over to Sign of the Times. It's essentially a second-hand shop, but they specialise in only re-selling top-end designer pieces. That means two whole floors of Chanel, Versace, Prada, Gucci, Christian Louboutin for a fraction of the cost!! Believe your eyes, it’s real. Items go fast so keep going back and you’ll be able to bag a new bargain.
You’ll find a whole strip of boutiques towards Chelsea along The King’s Road - it’s long, but it’s been designed with shopping in mind. You’ll find a tonne of great cafes like L’ETO for resting your feet (and arms).
Where to get your culture fix
If you’re a museum lover, this is YOUR MOMENT. Science, history, art, design, you name it, Kensington’s got it. Run around, soak it up and saturate that brain of yours with as much culture as it can take. What’s best is they’re all so close together that you could probably get round them all in a day. Admittedly at a push, but hey if you’re on a tight schedule, well, it helps.
Start with the Design Museum in Holland Park, which hosts a mixture of exhibitions, which even non-design buffs will enjoy. Move on to Leighton House Museum down the road, to see stunning interiors that’ll give you serious house envy. Then head to the V&A to see their free collection of art and design as well as a rotating schedule of incredibly original exhibitions. They’ve also got a good cafe space, which isn’t as hectic or stressful as many other food-hall type museum eateries. And if you’re still standing sans blisters after all of that, head to the Science and Natural History Museums to see dinosaurs, robots and fun interactive things that’ll have kids and adults who behave like kids (ie most of us) running around from one site to the next with shameless glee.
However long you’re in Kensington for, go to the Royal Albert Hall if you can. They host a variety of events from regular gigs, through to film screenings with live orchestras. With ornate architecture and near perfect acoustics, it’s always a treat for the eyes and the ears.
Where to get your groceries
If you’re a foodie who’s bagged themselves a Plum residence with a sweet kitchen, you’ll want to use it, so get yourself over to La Cave a Fromage in Cromwell Place for the best cheese in London. And good luck getting in and out without staying in for a cheeky platter.
There’s also a Wholefoods on the high street, serving every organic product you could ever want, and it’s got a family-friendly dining area if you fancy a spot of lunch. You’ll find it inside the huge art-deco Barkers building.
And if you fancy the most authentic croissants and baguettes outside of France, go to Orée Boulangerie on Fulham Road. C’est magnifique.
Where to go for dinner
Don’t want to cook? You’ve got a great excuse to go out. The Kensington restaurant scene is top notch, and if we were you, we’d try and fit as many in as poss.
You may have already heard of the famous Kensington Roof Gardens; now owned by Richard Branson. But back in the day it was owned by Barkers, mentioned earlier. They commissioned a big old garden to be plonked on the roof back in 1936, then charged people a shilling to enter, with profits going back to local hospitals. The good news is it’s now free to enter (hurrah!) and see the gardens during the day. Those shillings add up you know. They also have 4 resident flamingos - Bill, Ben, Splosh and Pecks, so go say hi. In the evening, book a table at Babylon for dinner. You’ll get great skyline views over the city - sadly, it costs a bit more than a few shillings to eat there, but it’s a wonderful experience.
Daphne’s is a delightful swanky Italian with stately surroundings. With a roaring fire in winter, it’s all too easy to feel dangerously at home. As is the case with Maggie Jones’s, albeit with a much more ‘farmhouse’ feel. Pots, pans and wicker line the walls of this cosy British haunt; try a pie or the lamb! Go for traditional pierogi at Ognisko - a restaurant on the bottom floor of a swanky Polish community club. And it goes without saying that you must end the meal with a vodka. And if you want to go to another corner of the earth still, Bombay Brasserie gives you romantic Indian dining in a conservatory illuminated by low light and night stars.
Where to enjoy a cheeky drink
Because it’d be rude not to, you might as well end that meal off with a nightcap at one of Kensington’s tempting drinking holes. The Churchill Arms is London’s most decorated pub, hiding under a camouflage of flowers, but all isn’t what it seems. Inside, mind your head - low-hanging antiques and dim lighting give this place a unique atmosphere. It’s always busy, but cramming into one of its nooks is all part of the charm. The Warwick Arms also gives you a cosy pub feel with its real log fire, and it’s a little out of the main throng so it’s great for those wanting to escape the busy centre for a while. If wine’s your poison, try Vini Italiani. Shop by day and bar by night, expect to say ‘go on, just one more’, more than just once. For cocktails, head to Chelsea institution Bluebird on King’s Road, or drink yourselves back to the 1920’s at Barts - a fun, ‘hidden’ speakeasy with impressively novel cocktails and prohibition era tunes and props.
Where to dance the night away
For you even crazier kids who want to dance into the night, try Piano bar on Kensington High Street for the best, most intimate piano singalong in the city - just be sure to get there early as it’s a tight squeeze. They operate a one in one out policy when it’s busy, which is often. The Roof Gardens is also a nightclub as well as bar, garden, restaurant and flamingo home (naturally). You must book to get in, and even then expect to queue. For even more late night dancing, get down to Notting Hill Arts Club, a rough-around-the-edges basement venue playing anything from soul, house and indie to reggae and hip-hop.
Frankly, we could go on and on. Kensington’s got a bit of everything. The place to be and be seen, nobody bats an eyelid at the many stars who frequent its streets and call it home. Bag yourself a townhouse and a super-greens smoothie, and you’ll be a local in no time.